Monday, 1 April 2019

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle reinvents the mystery novel as we know it. Author Stuart Turton sets his story around a gathering of family, friends and associates at Blackheath, the crumbling stately home of the Hardcastles. They have been invited for the 19th anniversary of the death of seven-year-old Thomas Hardcastle. So far, so Agatha Christie.

But it’s nothing like the steady gathering of clues, the interviewing of suspects, the discovery of secrets and final revelation that we have come to expect from your typical country house murder mystery.

First off there’s the sleuth. We meet Aiden Bishop running through the woods. Not only is he clueless about what’s going on around him – a woman screaming for help, gunshot, a malefactor in hot pursuit. He doesn’t know who he is or why he’s there. The next day he wakes up in the body of another character and learns from someone disguised as a medieval Plague Doctor, that to escape Blackheath he has to solve a murder – that of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Evelyn is Thomas’s big sister, who was supposed to have been looking after him on that fateful day. She isn’t due to die until 11 pm, during a display of fireworks when appearances suggest she takes her own life.

Aiden has eight days and will take on eight different personalities to discover Evelyn’s killer, reliving the same day over again. The different people he becomes are guests or servants staying at Blackheath and each gives a different slant on the crime.

What sets out to be a mystery novel, quickly turns into something like a computer game, where you attempt to battle your way out of a labyrinth, lose a life and start again. Or maybe it’s Groundhog Day in dinner suits. But towards the end we are on familiar territory, as not only does Aiden solve the crime, he uncovers more dark deeds than even the Plague Doctor knows about.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a novel that will keep you on your toes, a roller-coaster of a read that is full of surprises. There may be a lot to get your head around but it’s well worth the effort because with its ingenious plot and evocative storytelling, there is just so much to admire. Not surprisingly, Stuart Turton won the Costa First Novel Award for this mystery tour de force. I eagerly await his next book.

Posted by JAM

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